There was a time when China was the richest and strongest nation on the face of the earth, Han dynasty. The ancient Chinese civilisation was thriving on the trade routes known as “Silk Road”, stretching from capital Xi’an to ancient Rome. Some two thousand years later President Mr Xi Jinping is trying to repeat history. After two decades of phenomenal growth China is ready to open its economy, ready to build a new “Silk Road” or more commonly known as “one belt one road.” An integral part of this vision is the link of the China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea, provided by Pakistan’s Gwadar port the project in its entity is known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC.
With some $46 billion infrastructural spending, this seems to be Pakistan’s “big break” on the global front. 80% of this investment is for our ravaged power infrastructure. In addition to this a network of roads and railways is planned along with the development of Gwadar as a port. The major difference between this plan and all others proposed from the West so far is the amount of spending and the resulting opportunities created for Pakistanis.
According to the Board of Investment the main components of the corridor are; 1). Gwadar (Port, City and Gwadar region’s socio-economic development) 2). Energy (coal, hydel, wind, solar, LNG, transmission) 3). Transport infrastructure (road, railways, aviation) 4). Investment and industrial cooperation ( Gwadar free zone and other industrial parks to be finalised).
Gwadar Port is the expected to be operational by the end of the year. Roughly one million tons of cargo is expected to be going through it by 2017. The tonnage will initially comprise of construction material for the city’s development. The Chinese also promise to focus on the local fishing industry and plan to establish a processing plant over there as well. The “Gwadar Port free zone” was inaugurated in early April this year by the Chinese highlighting the immense trading potential of Gwadar and largely Balochistan. The ground breaking of Gwadar International Airport (GIA) and Expressway is scheduled to take place this year. GIA is a $260 million project with the capacity to handle some of the world’s largest airplanes including Airbus A380. The Expressway is expected to at least have three routes linking Gwadar with the rest of Pakistan by the end of 2016. In addition to this “Pakistan-China Vocational and Technical Training Institute” is also being established with a Chinese government’s grant of $10 million, as the name implies it is an avenue for the people of Gwadar to receive the necessary education and training to be a part of development.
Around 21 projects have been identified so far to help the energy needs of the CPEC along with up-gradation of the ailing power sector of Pakistan. Out of the $37 billion allocated around $33.7 are being utilised for the same 21 the projects previously mentioned. Sindh gets the biggest chunk with $11.3 billion in power projects. Pakistan is expected to gain self-sufficiency in electricity due to addition of 10,000MW in its current generation capacity by 2018; another 15000MW will be added by 2023-25. Pakistan has enough coal reserves to annually contribute 5000MW for the next 40 years, which she is expected to exploit by 2019 with projects like the one in Jamshoro, initially 2000MW are expected to be contributed from coal in the total power generation capability. Port Qasim, Hubco and Sahiwal power plants are expected to be producing 1320MW by 2018 with half of generation capability made available by 2017.
Diamer Bhasha Dam and Dassu Dam (4500MW) are also planned with Rs100 billion already spent in land acquisition for Bhasha Dam this year. Krote Hydro project 720MW and Sukhi Kinaro Hydro Poject 870MW are also in the pipeline for 2018 in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The 3600MW will be produced by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) by 2017, whereas nuclear power plants are also being upgraded to produce 2200MW. Renewable energy projects are also in the works with 500MW to be reaped from wind and another 1000MW from solar power namely Quaid-e-Azam solar part from Bahawalpur. Some $3 billion are being allocated to augment power distribution.
An integral part of CPEC is the roads and railways network, this is essentially what will give China an opportunity to access the Indian ocean via Gwadar. Many projects are on the fast track, including the enhancement of Karakoram Highway, notably 335km section between Khunjerab to Raikot has been upgraded and 59km section of Hazara motorway between Burhan and Havelian is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. The immensely important Western route (Havelian-Gwadar) was inaugurated by PM Nawaz Sharif at the beginning of the year. Two key projects of this are Zhob-Mughal Kot section of the Dera Ismail Khan–Qilla Saifullah Highway (N50) and the Qilla Saifullah–Waigam Rud Road section of the Multan-Dera Ghazi Khan-Qilla Saifullah Highway (N70). Work is expected to begin soon on the eastern route a 120 Km section of Karakoram highway II between Thakot and Havelian and a 392km section of Lahore–Karachi motorway between Multan and Sukkur, around $4.2 billion concessionary loan package has been approved by the Chinese Parliament. Pakistan Railways is also getting a life line; a sum of $8.5 billion is expected for the ailing sector. Major projects already implemented or approved to be implemented soon. The existing mainline; Karachi-Peshawar and Taxila-Havelian (ML-1) 1872km long will be upgraded, new dry port at Havelian is planned to be completed by 2020, laying another track to make two tracks between Shandara-Peshawar. A new track is also planned from Gwadar-Quetta and Jacobabad via Besima; similarly other projects are under way which will ultimately link Gwadar with Khunjerab by 2030 most.
One of the most important aspects of CPEC is the development of IT infrastructure. There are plans to lay an optical fiber 820km long from Khunjerab to Rawalpindi, costing $44 million. Timeline starting from May, 2016 (ground breaking) lasts for two years; this will act as an alternate communication route between Pakistan and China, greatly enhancing its 3G, 4G and even next generation capability.
CPEC also provides avenues of regional integration between Pakistan, China and central Asian countries. Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project for instance has attracted $7 billion under the umbrella of CPEC; a Chinese company will lay the pipeline from Gwadar to Nawabshah and set up a LNG terminal at Gwadar.
The biggest hurdle that stands in the way of CPEC’s success is the security situation of Pakistan. Pakistan is taking serious steps towards erasing security lapses. Some of the major highlights from this year in this regard include; a patrolling police station recently inaugurated in Gilgit-Baltistan, with 300 personnel and 25 vehicles (gifted from China) the patrolling force will ensure smooth flow of traffic on the 439 KM part of the CPEC project. In addition to this Pakistan Navy is actively collaborating with China with a special Marine battalion to ensure Gwadar’s security. A special security division of Pakistan army is dedicated for security of Chinese engineers. Sindh is also planning to hire 2000 retired army personnel for CPEC’s security in the province.
Pakistan is blessed with resources both Human and natural, we have four seasons to enjoy, tolerance and diversity of people and landscape. We are a gold mine waiting to be explored yet the leadership, the people or even natural calamities have always derailed our pursuit of prosperity. It has been more than 50 years since real progress and tremendous opportunities came knocking at our door without any strings attached. Projects like CPEC are game changers and the enemy is ever watchful and tries to exploit weak angels to the fullest. We need to wake up and stand united with the regime whoever it may be since the length of the project guarantees 3-4 changes, we need to take it as the constant that simply cannot be stopped to break the shackles of dependence and poverty. As far as the current progress is concerned we should be proud of the fact that at least there is minimal stagnation and we have to keep going rather accelerate the current rate. At the end of the day it is only ‘WE’ the Pakistani people who can make our destiny.